Zoo bears demonstrate sheer strength in destroying mock campground

2014-03-15T16:30:00Z 2014-03-21T14:41:07Z Zoo bears demonstrate sheer strength in destroying mock campgroundBy SUSAN OLP solp@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Anyone who ever doubted the brute force of a full-grown grizzly bear had only to watch Bruno and Ozzy wander into a faux campsite at ZooMontana on Saturday.

In a matter of minutes, the tent, the chairs, the sleeping bag, a garbage can and most of the food containers set up in the bear enclosure were destroyed. All except on a bear-proof cooler that, no matter how hard they tried, neither bear could open.

Finally Ozzy, like Bruno before him, gave up and wandered away. The formerly intact campsite looked a little like a war zone.

A crowd was on hand for the afternoon demonstration of how bear-proof food coolers are (or aren’t). Kids and adults marveled at how one bear or the other would place his paws on a regular cooler or plastic keg, press with all his weight, and in seconds, cause it to explode.

Then the victor would enjoy his spoils — treats such as bear kibble, fresh or frozen fruit or peanut butter — placed there by the zoo staff.

The bears also had no trouble reaching up with their long, sharp claws to grab a box of food suspended by rope in a tree. And Bruno easily picked up and shook a sleeping bag that hid a cache of frozen pineapple.

Some of the equipment, including the one cooler that the bears couldn’t crack, was provided by Cabelas. The demonstration, said animal keeper Krystal Whetham, helped remind people just how powerful and persistent bears can be.

“As you can see, the bears are very curious and they’re going to test everything,” said Whetham, who stood outside the enclosure, watching the two grizzlies. “Don’t think that a regular cooler is going to do the job.”

Also keep in mind, she said, that a tent won’t keep out a bear, and people planning to spend time camping or hiking in bear country should always carry bear spray. This time of year, she added, hungry bears are emerging from hibernation, including mothers and their cubs.

Whetham suggested that when it comes to cooking and storing food, campers think in terms of a triangle. The food should be stored at one point, cooked at a second and the sleeping gear set up at a third one, each about 100 yards apart from the other points.

Whetham also suggested hanging up food at least 10 feet or higher in a tree so a bear can’t reach it “because they’re incredibly smart and they can untie it and get it down.”

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